Comparative neuroethology of feeding control in molluscs

C. J.H. Elliott, A. J. Susswein

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Over the last 30 years, many laboratories have examined, in parallel, the feeding behaviour of gastropod molluscs and the properties of the nervous system that give rise to this behaviour. Equal attention to both behavioural and neurobiological issues has provided deep insight into the functioning of the nervous system in generating and controlling behaviour. The conclusions derived from studies on gastropod feeding are generally consistent with those from other systems, but often provide more detailed information on the behavioural function of a particular property of the nervous system. A review of the literature on gastropod feeding illustrates a number of important messages. (i) Many of the herbivorous gastropods display similarities in behaviour that are reflected in corresponding similarities in neural anatomy, pharmacology and physiology. By contrast, the same aspects of the behaviour of different carnivorous species are quite variable, possibly because of their specialised prey-capture techniques. Nonetheless, some aspects of the neural control of feeding are preserved. (ii) Feeding in all species is flexible, with the behaviour and the physiology adapting to changes in the current environment and internal state and as a result of past experience. Flexibility arises via processes that may take place at many neural sites, and much of the modulation underlying behavioural flexibility is understood at a systems and at a cellular level. (iii) Neurones seem to have specific functions that are consistent with their endogenous properties and their synaptic connections, suggesting that individual neurones code specific pieces of information (i.e. they are 'grandmother cells'). However, the properties of a neurone can be extremely complex and can be understood only in the context of the complete neural circuit and the behaviour that it controls. In systems that are orders of magnitude more complex, it would be impossible to understand the functional properties of an individual neurone, even if it also coded specific information. (iv) Systems such as gastropod feeding may provide a model for understanding the functional properties of more complex systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)877-896
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Aplysia
  • Arousal
  • Feeding
  • Feeding choice
  • Gastropod
  • Grandmother cell
  • Helisoma
  • Learning
  • Limax
  • Lymnaea
  • Mollusc
  • Neuromodulation
  • Pattern generation
  • Pleurobranchaea


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